The Last Coffee Date

We got divorced at the Dunkin’ Donuts. I didn’t want to meet him at the house, the home we shared for the last year, because I was afraid he wouldn’t leave. I was afraid he would wear his muddy boots on the carpet, help himself to the fridge, nap in front of the television like it was yesterday. Overstay his welcome. So I waited in a straight-backed chair, at a rickety linoleum table in the corner of the Dunkin’. The table was by the window so that I could see him coming.

The town is small and the Dunkin’ is its center. The upper crust congregates at the boarding school campus and in their private lake houses. The religious folk at church. The young people and tipplers at the pub, and the teens hiding; smoking in the old trolley tunnel as they tag the walls with sharpie. In the mornings everyone congregates here, like a rubber band snapping them back from their separate hollows for caffeine and camaraderie. The Lions’ Club pulls together many tables in their matching t-shirts. The women from the convalescence home talk, hushed tones in a cloud of White Diamond, fingering their brass brooches. Hungover, the college students in sweats and sunglasses lean sleepily on partitions. A study group, books open in their laps, talk about anything but the assignment. The Dunkin’ is not a good place to cry, but I cried anyway.

The audience was fine. It saved me the trouble of telling, because the neighbors would witness and tell each other. The barista would watch us filling in the lines on the divorce papers and she would no longer ask me “Does your husband want his usual?” and I would never have to say “there is no husband anymore.” 

When he arrived we began to fill out the papers with little pleasantry. We were there to work. We were both mourning. Sitting across from him was akin to sitting across from a ghost. The divorce filing; our autopsy. We listed assets, divided our earthly possessions. We checked the box that said our relationship had “broken down irretrievably.” The form said “dissolution of marriage” as if our union would simply dissolve into the current of time, like the sugar in my coffee.

On the day of the court proceedings, we were both early. I hunted for quarters in my crumb-coated car seats, to feed the meter while he waited. We walked through the metal detectors. We stood in the elevator between columns of suits; a spectrum of grey. We waited in a large room with many other couples but the room was silent. My head was thumping from a migraine; I hadn’t slept the night before. I turned to my soon-to-be-ex-husband and I said “do you want to get a cup of coffee?” He said yes and we left. 

As two born-and-raised New Englanders, we took for granted that there would be a Dunkin’ near the courthouse. Maybe two, we thought. Maybe even three, we joked. We started walking, hoping the orange and pink letters would appear like the north star, but we had went the wrong way. After about a mile of walking (me; blistered, in heels) we had gone in a complete circle, arriving at a Dunkin’ that was less than a block from the court house. Our proceeding was about to start. We began walking back; there was no time for coffee. Sleepy, irritable, and in the fog of a headache, I sat in the witness stand and explained to a stranger wearing a black cloak why I no longer wished to be married to my husband. The stranger, now the arbiter of my happiness, granted me a different life than the one I had been living. We left the courthouse as two single people and I never saw him again. 

Most days I will still sprint into the Dunkin’; under-caffeinated and running five minutes late. I am thinking about budgets, presentations that are due, an enigmatic client, an email I would rather avoid. Sometimes I will order something new and the barista will still give me my usual. I eat a bagel and wave at the neighbor. I run to my car and spill tea on my blouse before a work meeting. I hold iced coffee loosely by the lid, which, when divorced from its cup, sends its contents spilling on the floor; another spectacle. The Dunkin’ becomes another place, another errand, and I never sit at that table again.

Kelly Lindell is a writer living in New England. Her previous work appears in Longleaf Review, CRAFT, Atticus Review, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in fiction from The New School. 

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